The Legacy of a Whitetail Dear Hunter was shelved for a few years after it was shot. Director Jody Hill just couldn’t get distribution for it despite the film featuring Josh Brolin and Danny McBride, and the creative team being the same ones behind Vice Principles. A comedy like that with a charming father/son tale should have flown into the indy circuit pretty quickly, but it just sat. Then along came Netflix, who is dumping money into original content left and right, and loves to splash big names across their front page. Match made in heaven.
Except for the fact that there was a good reason it sat so long. It just isn’t very good.
The Legacy of a Whitetail Dear Hunter
Director: Jody Hill
Release Date: July 6, 2018
The film opens with a it’s-funny-because-its-true introduction to Buck Ferguson’s (Josh Brolin) hunting show. It’s straight out of bad hunting television, with all the jigonism and religion one would expect. From there we discover that Buck is shooting his next episode and it will be about taking his son to get his first kill. Buck is divorced, and he and his son, Jaden (Montana Jordan) are slightly estranged. The two enter the woods, along with Buck’s loyal camerman, Don (Danny McBride) and go in search of Jaden’s first kill.
Whitetail is never quite sure what it wants to be. Its torn between tipping into all out comedy or playing as a more subdued dramedy, but it never decides. As such its never really feels like its gaining any momentum. Its story seems to sit instead of progress. Buck and his son’s relationship develops and moves forward as one would expect it to in this kind of movie, but it never feels like any of it is earned. Instead the film comes together as a collection of scenes that are supposed to make up an entire film.
On the comedic side it starts to play with McBride’s normal character that he plays in every movie, but that guy doesn’t fit into this film all that well. Don is a bit of a sexual deviant and he starts sharing inappropriate things with Jaden. It works as a gag, but within the film as a whole it feels like forced humor. No real adult would share pornographic pictures of his girlfriend with a teenager, and if he did he’d be arrested. It is comedy for the sake of comedy, and it hurts a film that’s supposed to have more of a message.
When the film is on point is when it is actually playing it straight. Brolin delivers a really nuanced performance, and more impressive is that Jordan keeps pace. Brolin is easily the funniest part of the film, but never makes his character into a joke. The father/son relationship is really good when its allowed to breathe, but for the most part it never gets the chance it needs. Instead we’re treated to too many jokes and gags. The movie never feels whole.
I will give credit to the filmmakers for never mocking their subjects. A very easy take on this movie would be to make jokes at the “rednecks” hunting, and while their is comedy in that vein its a winking nod, not mockery. While the ridiculousness of hunting shows plays for its own sort of comedy, they play it straight so it doesn’t turn into something that feels mean.
There is definitely an interesting film buried somewhere in The Legacy of a Whitetail Dear Hunter, but the creative team just couldn’t find it. Instead the film is almost entirely forgettable, a story with nothing that makes it special.